How Are Punctures Or Tears To A Fuselage Repaired?

A torn or punctured fuselage is an issue of structural integrity that can temporarily ground an aircraft. Such damage tends to occur as a result of low-speed ground collisions. However, if an aircraft’s fuselage fails inflight, the consequences can be catastrophic. But, in the cases where a torn or punctured fuselage can be repaired to allow a return to service, how does this work?

GOL Boeing 737-800 Getty
A GOL Boeing 737 recently suffered fuselage damage after a collision with a set of stairs. Photo: Getty Images.

How do the repairs work?

This question was the subject of a discussion on the aviation forum Stack Exchange a few years ago. It prompted several useful answers, from which the following process can be gleaned.

  1. First, engineers or maintenance teams must fully cut the damaged area out of the fuselage. This will tend to cover a much larger area than just the affected section, as such cracks can propagate.
  2. Next, workers will cut a filler plate that acts as a placeholder for the gap in the fuselage.
  3. Meanwhile, doubler plates are riveted together to ensure that they cover an area greater than the damaged section.
  4. Once the doubler plates are fitted, they may be on one or both sides of the impacted area. This ensures that the weaker section is thicker than the fuselage skin surrounding it.
  5. To ensure the structural integrity of the repair, it will be subjected to regular inspections. In general, the repair process can cost between $5,000 and $15,000.
Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 Hangar London Heathrow
Aircraft maintenance typically takes place in on-site hangars. Photo: Jake Hardiman – Simple Flying

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Recent incidents

This week has seen Simple Flying cover two incidents in which an aircraft’s body has received damage. The first of these occurred in São Paulo, Brazil, on February 24th. It saw strong storm winds blow a set of stairs into a parked GOL Boeing 737. The gash that the collision inflicted to the aircraft’s fuselage near the tail was said to have been as deep as 50 cm.

Thankfully, the aircraft was unoccupied and situated in a remote area. This meant that no injuries occurred as a result of the coming together. The aircraft has since returned to service. At the time of writing, RadarBox.com showed that PR-GGD was in the air, on a São Paulo-bound domestic flight from Jijoca de Jericoacoara.

Singapore Cargo 747F LAX
Sometimes, cosmetic damage only becomes apparent during a postflight inspection. This was the case for a Singapore Cargo 747F earlier this week. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr

Then, on February 26th, a postflight inspection revealed damage to the right-hand landing gear door on a Singapore Airlines Cargo Boeing 747-400F. The largest incision, of which there appears to be at least four, was around 50 cm wide.

It is thought, but unconfirmed, that the damage was caused when the aircraft threw up loose stones, that had fallen from a construction truck, upon landing. In any case, data from RadarBox.com suggests that the aircraft, registered as 9V-SFO, is yet to return to service.

Two occurrences within a week last October

Last October also saw two incidences of cosmetic damage occur to commercial aircraft within a week of each other. The first of these involved a Shenzen Airlines Airbus A319 on October 16th. After landing in Pan Zhi Hua, China, it became apparent that the aircraft had sustained damage to its tires and fuselage. This saw it temporarily withdrawn, and its return flight was canceled.

Swiss Boeing 777
A SWISS 777 had an extended stay in Brazil last October after a ground collision with a runaway set of stairs. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Then, on October 20th, a SWISS Boeing 777 was on the wrong end of a collision with a set of stairs in high winds. This took place, once again, in São Paulo – what is it with Brazil’s most populous city and wind-assisted collisions between stairs and aircraft.

However, in this instance, the runaway steps impacted the aircraft’s wing, rather than its fuselage. Nonetheless, with safety being an utmost priority in aviation, the aircraft was swiftly grounded after the incident.

Have you ever seen an aircraft with a punctured or torn fuselage? Perhaps you’ve been involved in the process of fixing it? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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